Stephen Dalton, "Radical Spangle"
New Musical Express, April 23, 1993 (album)
The Infotainment Scan
(Permanent All formats)
EUROPE IMPLODES, the bank clerk from Brixton gets his sums wrong and suddenly the Mondays ain't so Happy. At this time of chickens returning to roost by the battery farm-load, the arrival of Mark E Smith's annual told-you-so address is more vital than ever. Through his cock-eyed, misanthropic, admirably unreasonable gaze, our latest bunch of sacred pop cows suddenly start slipping from grace. Each generation gets the Devil's Advocate it deserves.
In truth, the fine details of each Fall missive are clouded in the fog of its instigator's random thought process, but over the course of 'The Infotainment Scan' something of a wider picture emerges, whereby the reviled ghosts of history return, recast by the dew of nostalgia and rehabilitated by a generation too young to know how bad it really was at the time. 'Glam-Racket' was widely trailed as his fatherly lecture to today's young pretenders, but despite a couple of red-herring-esque mentions of "suede" and its razor sharp re-appropriation of Gary Glitter's 'Rock And Roll', it's really only a vaguely fathomable rant against a shellsuit-wearing, Viz-reading opportunistic spiv class...
Elsewhere, though, he lays into the retro culture vultures with barely disguised glee. 'Vimto and Spangles were always crap, regardless or the look-back bores,' he snipes in 'It's A Curse', a mean-spirited classic Fall grind that sees Mark curling his lip and pointing the finger: 'I do not like your tone / It has an ephemeral, whingeing aspect.' It takes an embittered sod from '77 one of the only few who remember why they got up on stage in the first place - to be able to cock a snook at the follies of today with anything like conviction and credibility.
Logic needn't come into this. If Smithy hates Lawrence Denim or the Saint Etiennes of this world then pourquoi the pretty darn straight - though certainly wonderful - rendering of Sister Sledge's 'Lost In Music'? Indeed, the presence of two more covers, admittedly obscure and heavily abridged, might suggest a certain amount of slacking from The Fall's legendarily sturdy "We're pros, us" work ethic but the lilting 'I'm Going To Spain' and the frantic techno-skank of 'Why Are People Grudgeful?' are woven so tightly into the '93 model Fall fabric that there's no semblance of desperation.
Musically, this album sees The Fall wound up a notch or ten beyond 'Code: Selfish', which, apart from the stunning 'Free Range' did rather suffer from a lack of focus. Itchy techno beats and incidental burbles underpin most tracks, and a palpable sense of bullish disquiet recalling 'Bend Sinister' pervades the finest moments here. 'Paranoia Man In Cheap Shit Room' is the near-anthemic centrepiece, a poignant narrative perched atop a swinging Craig Scanlon riff. 'Service' is a lovely, piano-licked urban stroll ('Streets are clean for a change/Must have been the rain'), while in 'A Past Gone Mad' Smith has another go at Spangles, along with serial killers - 'always a bore in my book'.
Okay, so Mark gets in one utterly perverse doodle ('Light/Fireworks') but hell, if it was on the last Pavement LP we'd all have applauded its off-kilter charm. What really matters is this: since the iffy 'Kurious Oranj' set, The Fall have failed to deliver a less than great album, and The Infotainment Scan stands at the very peak of their canon.